We get these questions: "I have nothing except a dream and the ambition. I've been researching agriculture loans from the government. I believe within the next year or two I'll be able to meet the requirements to obtain one of these loans from the USDA. I'm looking to starting out about a 10-acre farm and after a few years expand to a 100-acre farm, all lavender. A few questions I have, and I'm hoping you can answer are: Does this organization put farms of all scales (small, medium and large) in contact with commercial products makers that utilize lavender? Like for example Tide laundry detergent or something of that nature or those Glade plug-ins my wife loves so much. If so, do these manufacturers, in general, prefer making the essential lavender oils themselves (for their own standards concerning purity) or do they prefer to buy the essential oils. If they prefer the oils, do you have contacts and networking of distilleries and transportation services? Cause I'll tell you, for this type of information and these types of connections, I would gladly pay membership fees!"

Not having an awareness of where you have been researching information on starting a lavender farm, you have come to the right place. The problem with our industry is it is relatively new; about 35 years old in the U.S. Plus, there is so much information online that is simply not true. We provide vetted, accurate information for our members’ decision-making. Lavender is identified by the USDA as a specialty crop, and as such our member farms are typically small. Ten acres is pretty large. Size limitations for most of our members is labor, as harvesting is very labor-intensive since most is done by hand. Finding seasonal labor is no small feat. There are also the considerations like takes 5-8 years for the plants to reach maturity (think apple orchard), so it takes time to establish the plants before yields provide the amounts needed to deal with large corporations’ requirements.

We do not provide contact with those corporations as our member farms are all distinctly different in size, business models, and what they provide for sale to the public/wholesale. We have over 700 lavender farms in our association and each one is different! Most of our members have as a part of their business model agri-tourism as a significant piece of it. Most farms diversify with other activities to generate several streams of income. There are very few who only grow to sell their lavender and/or essential oil wholesale and retail. Most large corporations demand multiple year contracts to provide x number of pounds of oil or buds. With changing weather patterns, growing conditions, labor and market being significant elements in farming it is nearly impossible to guarantee yields from one year to the next. Can it be done? It is possible, but we are not aware of any of our member farms meeting large wholesale contracts. It comes down to the marketing they do for their own businesses. Our traditional row crop neighbors growing typical crops and grains, do not farm to contract but depend on being able to sell to their local elevators where there are established prices driven by the grain exchanges. We do not have that simplified avenue of getting our crops off our farms but depend on our own ability to find unique ways of doing just that. Tide and other large corporations often do not use lavender essential oil, but fragrance oils. These are synthetic in nature meaning they are man-made fragrances made through chemistry, not true essential oils. That may not be true for all products, but if you smell true essential oils (over 450 lavender varieties) they are very different from what you smell in the grocery or candle stores. There are many reasons why they choose to use them. We venture most wholesale sales of our members are to other growers who have experienced either a terribly bad crop year or have an order they cannot fulfil and need help. The USDA does have loans available but are usually tied to specific grants or programs. If you can find one that is a good fit, great!

Yes, we have many members who do make a living. It can be lucrative and many of our members gross income is remarkably high. A lot depends on what business model one picks, how hard you want to work and risk. It is farming and many variables such as weather play havoc with giving us easy paths to wealth. This is NOT a way to get rich, but to have a healthy way of life. We have yet to meet one wealthy lavender farmer that did not start out already wealthy.

Part of any due diligence in investigating any new venture such as farming is problematic in that most do not know what questions to ask. That is where membership in our organization will help you answer those questions. If our membership fee will save you from making one minor mistake in decision-making, in farming that can mean thousands you cannot afford to lose in time and money. The bulk of our members were looking for a way to extend their income, find new purpose after retiring from another industry, and/or an attractive way of life. Many members have to keep their day jobs in order to make the transition to full-time lavender farmer, but then many of our traditional farming neighbors are doing the same.

Specialty crop farming is probably the easiest farming to get into without huge capital investments if you already own land. You can start out small and grow each year as you will not see a return on investment for several years. However, farming is hard work.

One of the harder issues is finding dependable seasonal help during harvest. Each location around the country has its own challenges with a ready labor source. But we encourage you to visit as many lavender farms in your area as you can and talk with the people currently doing it.

You can find a map of our members that are open to the public here.
There are so many ways to respond to this and still not answer your question unfortunately. It depends on your location, micro-climate, weather-related issues such as too much/little rain, extreme temperatures, age of plants (it takes 5-8 years for most lavender plants to reach maturity), and how you decide to get your crop off the farm. Lavender is a specialty crop with over 450 varieties, some suited for certain purposes more than others. Some varieties will yield multiple cuttings during the growing year. Others do not or not enough to warrant going back into the field to retrieve it. It is similar to alfalfa where one has multiple cuttings, but the first cutting is always the biggest or bulk of the annual harvest.
There are a couple of books most of us count on to try and identify lavender plants. The first is by Sarah Berringer Bader called, "The Lavender Lovers’ Handbook." Sarah did a great job with the photography to help identify leaves, stems and spikes along with the arrangement of the whorls of buds and how they are arranged on the stems. The second book is by Virginia McNaughton called, "Lavender: The Grower's Guide." Virginia’s book has been one of the bibles for us to help identify varieties. Finally, Tim Upson’s book is called "The Genus: Lavandula." This book is a scientific study and extremely thorough. All can be found online or possibly at your local library.